Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Jets Jacob Trouba rumors surfacing again and Buffalo might have what it takes

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 4-29-2019

Lyle Richardson of Spector's Hockey brought up a name out of Winnipeg that been in the rumor mill a lot--defenseman Jacob Trouba.

Richardson points to a piece by Mike McIntyre of the Winnipeg Free Press who gives us 10 morsels to chew on beginning with Trouba. "Look, it's clear [Trouba] doesn't want to be here long-term," wrote McIntyre," which is his right, but the Jets cant' afford to allow him to walk for nothing as an unrestricted free agent next summer."

That's a tough situation to be in for the Jets although Trouba will most definitely bring in a pretty good haul. The centerpiece of that haul might be determined by which direction Winnipeg general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff wants his team to go. Hockeybuzz.com Jets blogger Peter Tessier asked that question in a recent piece. "The first thing to consider is understanding what kind of team the GM is tiring to build," wrote Tessier. "Is it a fast attacking team or a highly skilled one playing a complete game at each end of the ice? Is it something else, one that will grind down the opposition via size and puck control?"  

Winnipeg's Cup-window took a hit with their early playoff exit at the hands of the St. Louis Blues this month and last season they were upset by the expansion Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference finals. They head into next season with a projected $55.6 million on the books right now, a lot of holes to fill and two restricted free agents in Patrick Laine and Kyle Connor who are going to eat up a big chunk of their projected cap space (perhaps as much as $17 million, according to Tessier.)

Monday, April 29, 2019

Impressions of, and questions concerning--D, Zach Bogosian

Defenseman--Zach Bogosian DOB: July 15, 1990 (Age, 29)
Draft: 2008, third-overall, Atlanta Thrashers
How acquired: Acquired in a trade with Winnipeg, February 11, 2015
Last contract signed: July 29, 2013, 7yrs./$36 million
Final year of contract: 2019-20

2018-19 Stats:  65 games | 3 goals | 16 assists | 19 points | -5 | 21:38 ATOI
Buffalo Career Stats:  224 games | 12 goals | 50 assists | 62 points | -49 | 21:43 ATOI

What we wrote preseason:  Dependent upon how things shake out at camp, 28 yr. old veteran defenseman Zach Bogosian will probably be the first one to hit the ice as a d-partner for Buffalo Sabres rookie phenom Rasmus Dahlin. That is, of course, if nothing happens to Bogosian along the way, which unfortunately is always a possibility.

Last year because of injury Bogosian's season didn't start until December 1 and it ended 18 games later as he and the rest of his season was done in by a hip injury. Bogosian underwent hip surgery in early February and with a 4-6 month recovery time now past, he's ready to go for the upcoming season.

As a veteran who's never made the playoffs in his 10-year career, and as a player who's missed a lot of time due to injury, one would think that any role, especially alongside a franchise defenseman would suit him moving forward. One should have every reason to believe that Bogosian will take on that role and relish helping Dahlin, just as he did with  Jake McCabe.

However, maybe it's best to entertain more modest goals for Bogosian like a 70-game season in a second-pairing role for a team that's a playoff contender for at least a good portion of the season. And even that might be asking too much.

What we wrote mid-season:  Once again, Bogosian was injured this season and didn't play his first game until October 16. However what we've seen from him since his return has been very, very good. Bogosian was drafted third overall because he could skate very well for his size and had a skill package that netted him 18 goals and 76 assists in 127 OHL games. And he had a mean-streak in him as well. In 21 games after being traded for, Bogosian at least piqued our interest with his game but for the three years after, nearly half of his time was spent on the injured list. He had hip surgery back in January and started out a little slow this year but has really been playing well. There's a lot of leadership emanating from him and he can be like a mean big brother on the ice protecting his siblings. Bogosian's been logging big minutes for the club and lately he's been paired a lot with Dahlin. The 6'3" 226 lb. Massena, NY native has been getting up ice and shoving the opposition around while registering seven points (2+5) in 32 games. All of those traits have contributed to Buffalo's early season success and we'll just leave it at that as we don't want to jin...

Impressions on his play this year:  Bogosian's play this season was reminiscent of his play when he first came to the Sabres four years ago--a rugged defenseman who can defend the crease and work the boards in his own end while getting up ice to contribute offensively and on occasion, deliver a cannon of a shot. 

With his days of being a big, two-way d-man with enough skating to consider him an offensive threat long gone, Bogosian has settled into more of a defensive defenseman role for Buffalo logging a team-high 2:46 minutes on the penalty kill with 58% of his starts in the defensive zone. Two years ago he mentored a young Jake McCabe and this past season he had a positive effect on Dahlin, who was free to roan while Bogosian held the fort. 

As with anything Bogosian, staying healthy is key to his effectiveness and he managed to play 65 games this season, tied for the most he's played since 2011-12. Bogosian is in the final year of a contract that paid him over $5 million annually but he only played about 50% of the games while donning the Blue and Gold and in 2019-20, either at the trade deadline or at the end of the season, the Sabres can part ways with him. However, the NHL is still a pretty tough league despite the predominance of highly skilled players taking the ice on a nightly basis and Buffalo might need a player with his rugged style of play in a third-pairing/penalty kill role, dependent upon the dollars and term of a future contract.

Questions moving forward: Did he show enough this season to warrant the Sabres keeping him around on another contract? What would said contract look like? How does he fit into their plans moving forward? Can he play in some 50 games before the trade deadline? If the Sabres are in the playoff hunt, would they keep him? If they're out, what will his value be to a playoff team or Cup-contender? Would he consider re-signing for a short-term, reduced salary in a reduced role? Should Buffalo just move on from everything Tim Murray?

Contract info via CapFriendly, stats via sabres.com and hockey reference.com.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Impressions of, and questions concerning--C, Casey Mittelstadt

Center--Casey Mittelstadt
DOB:  November 22, 1998 (20 yrs. old)
Draft:  2017, 8th-overall
How acquired:  Drafted by Buffalo
Last contract signed:  March 26, 2018, ELC 3yrs./$4.4475M ($925K base salary)
Final year of contract: 2019-20

2018-19 Stats:  77 games | 12 goals | 13 assists | 25 points | -19 | 13:27 ATOI
Buffalo Career Stats:  83 games | 13 goals | 17 assists | 30 points | -18 | 13:30 ATOI 

What we wrote preseason:  Buffalo Sabres rookie center Casey Mittelstadt has rated very high in a number of prospect rankings and is considered one of the top NHL prospects for 2018-19. The prevailing theme [GM Jason Botterill] and his scouts saw with Mittelstadt may have been summed up nicely (albeit maybe just a tad overzealously) by  [Scott] Wheeler [The Athletic] when he wrote last weekend that the Eden Prarie, Minnesota high school graduate has a "rare mix of [being] already-incredibly-talented and yet still super, super raw."

At the 2015 NHL Draft the Buffalo Sabres selected center Jack Eichel second overall to be the future No. 1 center on the club and traded for O'Reilly to be No. 2. Three years later Eichel is the franchise center and O'Reilly has been replaced by Mittelstadt. Both of those are very good one-two punches but in a few years, that Eichel/Mittelstadt duo may be amongst some of the best in the league. It all starts this season with Mittelstadt cutting his teeth in a full time No. 2 center role. And I don't think the 19 yr. old will have much difficulty with either the high expectations placed upon him or the transition.

What we wrote mid-season:  The mid-six in Buffalo's lineup has been in a constant state of flux this entire season as Housley can't seem to find the right mix, at least on a consistent, long-term basis. Having said that, the most skilled of those players is Mittelstadt. The 20 yr. old rookie has been thrown into the fire somewhat with the trade of O'Reilly, Buffalo's No. 2 center, and the failure of various players, including vets, to fill that spot. Mittelstadt isn't lighting up the scoreboard as he only has 10 points (5+5) in 37 games, but Housley has raved about him at times while calling attention to his focus upon playing a 200' game. As of late Mittelstadt has really been showing off some of the skills that made him a 2017 eighth-overall pick and we've seen him skating and stickhandling with much more confidence after getting acclimated to the speed of the NHL. He's done pretty much everything but consistently hit the scoresheet all while playing with a surprising amount of grit and dogged determination that belies his baby face. Some of his scoring woes can be traced back to little or no chemistry on a line that's facing tough competition on a nightly basis while some of it also has to do with the lack of time and space he's yet to adjust to. Mittelstadt has been finding himself in good spots on a consistent basis, especially as of late, but his trigger needs to be a touch faster and once he gets that, we should see his numbers spike upward.

Impressions on his play this year:  Mittelstadt wasn't ready for No. 2 center duties, it's as simple as that, but going back to what Wheeler said, the talent is there but he most definitely is "super, super raw."

What we saw this season after he got more acclimated to the NHL game was a player in Mittelstadt who looked as if he tried to do way too much on his own. He's an excellent skater and stick-handles the puck very well but this is the NHL and the players he faced on a nightly basis are mostly quick and skilled and know how to stick check. Many of the good ones on the better teams have played in systems that know how to eliminate that kind of individualized talent and it wasn't all that difficult to take out this rookie when he tried to do it on his own. 

From a pure numbers perspective, Mittelstadt's 25 points weren't all that impressive, especially when you consider his o-zone starts were above 70%, and his minus-19 rating is downright ugly. On many occasions we'd see the puck head the other way when Mittelstadt and his linemates were on the ice and of all the lines for the Sabres this season, it seemed as if his line had the most trouble getting it back out of the zone.

Some are already writing him off, which is a crazy notion. Mittelstadt has a lot of raw talent and skills to work with and despite his struggles, a little more work in the weight room, some wingers he can mesh with and a coach behind the bench that knows what he's doing should help move him along nicely. This is about development not only on an individual basis, but from a team perspective as well. You can draft all the top-10 picks you want but if they're not developed properly, what good are they?

Questions moving forward:  Will the Sabres organization stabilize the hockey department and get it moving forward? Will the development plan Botterill and the team have in place take hold and allow their players to blossom? Will Buffalo be able to land a middle-six center who can handle No. 2 center duties while Mittelstadt continues to develop? How much muscle can Mittelstadt add on? How much will he work on his shot over the summer? How much progress should we expect from him next season? 40 points? More? 

Contract info via CapFriendly, stats via sabres.com and hockey reference.com.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Impressions of, and questions concerning--F, Evan Rodrigues

Forward--Evan Rodrigues DOB: July 28, 1993 (Age, 25)
Draft: Undrafted
How acquired: Signed by Buffalo April 22, 2015
Last contract signed: July 27, 2017, 2yr./$1.3 million
Final year of contract: 2018-19 (arbitration-eligible RFA)

2018-19 Stats:  74 games | 9 goals | 20 assists |  29 points | -7 |  15:49 ATOI
Buffalo Career Stats:  154 games | 21 goals | 41 assists | 62 points | -22 | 14:37 ATOI

What we wrote preseason:  Rodrigues is entering his fourth pro season after leaving Boston University and signing with the Sabres as a free agent. The versatile forward has worked his way up the pro ranks and has showed definitive year-over-year progress in both Rochester and Buffalo.

Last season was yet another step forward for Rodrigues. After suffering an injury in camp which derailed his NHL plans, Rodrigues hit Rochester for an eight-game stint and scored 10 points (5+5.) He was with Buffalo for 48 games scoring seven goals and adding 18 assists.

Sabres coach Phil Housley has a player in Rodrigues that he can play up and down the lineup at either left wing or center and will be consistent game-in, game-out. The demotion of Asplund means that Rodrigues might find himself in a two-way winger role on the third-line. Although he's played better at center, right now Jack Eichel, Casey Mittelstadt and veteran Patrik Berglund look to be locks there which means Rodrigues could start out on the wing. And we're pretty sure he doesn't care as long as he plays.

What we wrote mid-season:  Although he hasn't had a great season, Rodrigues' 10 points (2+8) is still ahead of first round picks Thompson (2016, 26th) and Girgensons in scoring and although it might not be saying much, it is what it is. The versatile, undrafted college free agent (2015) has been moved around in the bottom-nine by Housley as he tries to find a working combination and some chemistry for the second and third lines. For as much 5v5 trouble as he, and the team, has had, Rodrigues has been a constant on Buffalo's penalty kill and he's also been used on the second powerplay unit. In a year of struggles for any forward outside the top trio, Rodrigues needs to find consistency to his game no matter what line he's on.

Impressions on his play this year:  Rodrigues has been Buffalo's Swiss-army knife, or a Jack of all trades, or  utility forward up front, but whatever way you cut it he's played his role admirably under two coaches. In his first full season with the Sabres, Rodrigues has nearly doubled the number of  career games played while nearly doubling his career production as well and he continued an upward trend in average time on ice.  

Rodrigues doesn't have a particular trait that stands out but he does a lot of things well and at a $650K cap-hit the last two seasons, he represents a real value for the club. He can skate well and dart around the ice, he has the capacity to score and set up and he has a strong enough hockey IQ to play in in all situations and not look out of place. Continued development is the key for the 25 yr. old who's on a development curve that's fairly long and still evolving but there will always be injuries and Rodrigues proved last season that he can hold down a bottom-six role on a good team and can be moved in and out of the top-six as a decent stop-gap. 

Questions moving forward:  Can he excel in a third-line role and continue to be an all-situations player? If the Sabres upgrade their forward ranks (which includes re-signing Jeff Skinner,) will his powerplay time evaporate? If the Sabres land a top-nine center, is Rodrigues better suited to a fourth-line center role or a third-line winger role? Can he up his production to the 15g/25a area next season? What type of contract is in his future? Would a 3 yr./$3 million deal be too far-fetched? 

Contract info via CapFriendly, stats via sabres.com and hockey reference.com.

a Swiss-army knife up-front, or if you wish, a Jack of all trades

Friday, April 26, 2019

Sabres organization steeped in negativity as Amerks swept out in first round

Published by hockeybuzz.com 4-25-2019

It was supposed to be the year the Rochester Americans "were built for the playoffs" but it ended up being just another year of getting swept in the first round. Rochester lost 3-1 to the Toronto Marlies (TOR) last night and lost the series 3-0. The Amerks have made the playoffs five times in the last eight seasons and they've been swept out in four of those appearances, three by the Marlies and once by the Syracuse Crunch (TBL.) Overall Rochester has not made it past the first round since 2004-05 when NHL players were being locked out and a group former Sabres team president Ted Black called "the Rochester Guys" got to the second round.

The Sabres farm team has had a weird go if it since then. Under owner Tom Golisano Buffalo shared the Amerks with the Florida Panthers in a dual affiliation that lasted from 2005-07 before they shuffled their AHL affiliation off to Portland, Maine for three seasons. When new owner Terry Pegula bought the Sabres in 2011 he reunited the Sabres and Amerks that off season.

Rochester would make the playoffs three straight seasons from 2011-14 but got swept by the Marlies twice and fell to the Chicago Wolves (STL, at the time) in five games. The Amerks would get caught up in the devastation of the tank years orchestrated by the Sabres, and completed by former general manager Tim Murray, then spent three years digging themselves out of that rut. Sabres GM Jason Botterill and his Rochester general manager, Randy Sexton, focused upon the farm system when they took over in 2017 and loaded up the Amerks as best they could. It resulted in back-to-back playoff appearances.

Sexton was on WGR550 Radio with the morning hosts on Tuesday talking with his club down 2-0 in the series and facing elimination. Development and culture were the predominant buzzwords throughout the early part of the interview as Sexton focused upon those being the ideals they wanted to move forward with after taking over. Rochester made it to the playoffs last season with older players and vets trying to lay down a foundation with which to build upon and Sexton called it, "a good start."

"This year," he continued, "we were very encouraged. We injected a number of young players into the roster, we came within a couple of points of winning first place in the division and third or fourth overall in the American Hockey League, which was another step forward. Obviously progress.

"Now we're into a difficult series with the Marlies and that's all part of the development process."

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Of Zach Bogosian and Mike Babcock

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 4-24-2019

Zach Bogosian underwent hip surgery and will be out 5-6 months, according to the Buffalo Sabres. The rugged, 28 yr. old defenseman just finished his 11th season in the NHL and his 65 games played matched the most he's played since 2011-12. In the seven seasons in between Bogosian has played in 288 of a possible 574 NHL games, or just a hair under 50%.

That's not a good percentage by any stretch of the imagination.

In addition to his 65 games, the 6'3" 225 lb. Bogosian also had a solid 2018-19 campaign with 22 points (3+19) while skating an average of 21:38/game. He anchored the Sabres penalty kill and was also paired with rookie d-man Rasmus Dahlin for large chunks of the season as his mentor. Bogosian had opted for hip surgery in the middle of the 2017-18 season after playing in only 18 games. His recovery went well but he still started out this past season on the injured list and missed the first five games and bookended the season by missing the last seven games.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Impressions of, and questions concerning--RW, Kyle Okposo

Right Wing--Kyle Okposo DOB: April 16, 1988 (Age, 31)
Draft: 2006, 1st round (7th-overall,) NYI
How acquired: 2016 FA
Last contract signed: July 1, 2016--7yr./$42M
Final year of contract: 2022-23

2018-19 Stats:  78 games | 14 goals | 15 assists | 29 points | -9 | 13:47 ATOI
Buffalo Career Stats:  219 games | 48 goals | 70 assists | -50 | 16:27 ATOI

What we wrote preseason:  The 2017-18 NHL season for Buffalo Sabres right winger Kyle Okposo is being widely regarded as a mulligan for the 30 yr. old. Okposo's health issues, stemming from treatment for a concussion, landed him in the intensive care unit in April, 2017 and as the off season hit, for him it wasn't about gearing up for the following season it was more about whether or not he'd ever be able to play the game again.

However, Okposo is now facing another hurdle--Father Time. The 30 yr. old is at a point where, generally speaking, players begin to decline. "I’ve been around this game awhile now," he said, "and you get on the other side of 30 and a lot of guys say, ‘Oh he’s past his prime’ and 'If he has a couple of bad years, he’s on the way down' and I’m very aware of that and seen it happen to many guys. 

Okposo will probably be Buffalo's No. 2 right winger with rookie Casey Mittelstadt or veteran Patrik Berglund at center. In either instance he expects, and is expected, to succeed.

What we wrote mid-season:  We all know about Okposo's contract, his health issues and his struggles scoring. The Sabres could be getting the same production of 15 points (5+19) and a minus-4 rating through 37 games from a player with a cap-hit much less than Okposo's $6 million but they're stuck with that for four and a half more seasons. It's the type of contract that could haunt Buffalo in the near future as Skinner, Reinhart and defensemen Rasmus Dahlin will all need new, and lucrative, contracts within the next two years. Buffalo desperately needs a No. 2 right wing that can score on a consistent basis and Okposo was supposed to be that guy. Outside of some solid, but somewhat modest, numbers in his first season with the Sabres that type of top-six production hasn't materialized and Housley's been forced to play him up and down the bottom-nine. Okposo is a player that's easy to pull for as he's overcome adversity and exudes professionalism on a daily basis, but there comes a point in time where said player needs to step up his game and help this team move forward. That time has come.

Impressions on his play this year:  It didn't come. Okposo finished the year with 14 goals and 15 assists, which was worse than the prior season when returned from his scary health issues. With 11 of those points (7+4) coming on the powerplay, in essence the $6 million man was a bottom-six winger/powerplay specialist for the Sabres last year. 

When it comes to his physical attributes, Okposo isn't slow but a much faster NHL game can leave him in the dust a bit and he does have a tendency to get lost in the pace of the play. He's pretty strong in the corners and below the goal line but there were many times where he tried to do too much resulting in turnovers. He has an excellent shot which we've witnessed on the powerplay however he had trouble finding open space 5v5. Open space is often difficult to find when playing in the bottom-six, but Okposo really hasn't done anything top-six worthy since his first year with the Sabres.

Buffalo is not unique when it comes to bad contracts as most teams in the league have at least one, and many can be traced to free agency. The good news for the Sabres is that they're not in a cap bind right now and don't need to hit the panic button on a $6 million bottom-six player. In an ideal world Okposo would produce like an overpaid top-nine winger but his play last season has us leaning towards a player that won't be around in a couple of years.  

Questions moving forward:  Can he work on his skating a touch this summer? Will the third coach be a charm for him? Can he at least get to 40 points, a total that's well below his career average but, unfortunately, right in line with what he's averaged the last three years with the Sabres? Does he deserve the 'A' that's sewn on his sweater? Would GM Jason Botterill trade away Buffalo's other first round pick to move him? Is there a team that would take on that contract?

Contract info via CapFriendly, stats via sabres.com and hockey reference.com.